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Nach Waxman, founder of bookstore where foodies flock, dies at 84

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Nach Waxman, who combined his seasoning in anthropology and non-fiction publishing to found a bookstore in Manhattan that has become a global mecca for chefs, cooks, culinary academics, epicurean writers and just about anyone who loved to eat as much as he did, died Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 84 years old.

The cause was septic shock, said her son, Rabbi Joshua Waxman.

Mr. Waxman’s passion and curiosity for food has made his store, Kitchen Arts & Letters, a go-to source for all kinds of culinary stories and customs, as well as recipes that he believes should be sources of creative inspiration rather than rigid paint-by-number models. Faced with a culinary challenge, customers knew who to turn to.

In one case, Mr. Waxman advised Citibank on its banquet menu for the Venezuelan finance minister; in another, he found native New Guinea recipes for the dining room at the American Museum of Natural History at an exhibit on tropical forests.

“He could make helpful recommendations, get the cookbook you needed, search for out-of-print editions, and discuss the authors,” said Florence Manufacturer, food and wine editor for The New York Times.

Mr. Waxman once said that about two-thirds of his clients are culinary careers who buy professional tools. “Knives are one tool,” he told The Times in 1998. “Books are another.”

He established the store in 1983 in a former butcher’s shop on Lexington Avenue, between East 93rd and 94th Street. He owned her with Matt Sartwell, who joined him in 1991.

Mr. Waxman, who stood out for his white hair and beard and retro suspenders, viewed Kitchen Arts & Letters as “a repository of books that are not just what you can’t get elsewhere, but beyond that. that you knew existed ”.

“It’s not just a cookbook store,” he said in another Time maintenance, in 2008. “There are books on the microbiology of cheese making, the role of gastronomy in Molière’s plays. You can find books on cooking antiques, contemporary agriculture, biotechnology.

The store’s first floor is packed with thousands of books, and an even more esoteric collection can be found in the basement: reference books and coveted rare editions – many for inspection, but not for sale – ranging from “Foods of the Azores Islands “(1977) to” Famine and Food Supply in the Greco-Roman World “(1988).

“It really is the professional business that is the rewarding business,” Mr. Waxman told The Times in 1995. “People who develop their skills and the scope of their work. I will tell you that when the lease ended he A few years ago, I seriously thought about moving the store to the second floor somewhere just to make it a place for motivated people, not for the occasional visit. People who come here have a language in common.

“Sitting down and selling books is boring,” he said. “It’s making change and putting books in bags. The fun part is helping people solve their problems.

Mr. Waxman was inducted in 1995 into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.

Nahum Joel Waxman (his nickname, Nach, is pronounced like “toc”) was born on October 20, 1938 in Philadelphia, grandson of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Romania. His father, Jerome, was an insurance and real estate agent specializing in the poultry farms that proliferated around Vineland, New Jersey, where Eastern European Jews had resettled and where Nach had grown up. Her mother, Minnie (Kanner) Waxman, was an educator.

After traveling 30 miles by train daily to Akiba Hebrew Academy in Philadelphia, he went to Cornell University, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1958. He pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago and Harvard, where he enrolled in a doctoral program in South Asian anthropology.

He left academia to become a book publisher, working at Macmillan, Harper & Row and Crown. But after two decades in publishing, he had grown tired of working for conglomerates and wanted to become his own boss.

A second career as a bookseller was essential at the confluence of his expertise as a publisher – he had edited a number of cookbooks – and his training as an anthropologist, who considered “food as a carrier of identity. », His wife, Maron. Waxman, a former publishing colleague, said in a telephone interview.

“We have been seated in front of meals served by our family for generations,” she said. “It meant a lot to us. “

He loved to cook and the couple shared rich Jewish traditions associated with food. Mr. Waxman inherited his mother’s slow cookers, in which every year on Purim he would ferment beet brine to make Eastern European borscht from a venerable recipe.

Her own recipe for beef brisket (cut from the brisket or bottom of the brisket) was featured in “The New Basics” (1989), by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso, authors of the popular “The Silver Palate Cookbook “. “I probably get as many calls and correspondence about this recipe as I have ever done,” Mr. Waxman once said.

He attributed the inspiration for this recipe to the previous generation. “A footnote is owed to both my mom (for the massive use of onions) and my stepmother (for the pre-slicing),” he told The Times in 2008. He maintained his spiritual connection to his heritage by joining a Sunday reading group that analyzes Hebrew texts.

He married Maron Loeb in 1967. In addition to her and their son, Joshua, he is survived by a daughter, Sarah Waxman, and three grandchildren. He died in Mount Sinai Hospital.

Surrounded by the printed word, Mr. Waxman has witnessed the growth of the Internet. And while today’s digital food publishers may disagree, he argued in 2008 that the web is no replacing cookbooks.

“It will provide you, indeed, with every variety and design imaginable of ‘peanut butter,’ ‘jelly’ and ‘sandwich’,” he said in 2008, “but in the end, it won’t offer you always only a list; he will not have a point of view. It won’t help you rate this massive compilation of what happens when these three food ideas intersect.

Likewise, he argued that the recipes should serve as directional cues that encourage creative detours rather than being precisely imitated, like a road map. In his contribution to “Dumbing Down: Essays on the Strip-Mining of American Culture” (1996, edited by Katharine Washburn and John Thornton), Mr. Waxman wrote:

“Detached, like us, from the example of our mothers (or sometimes our fathers), who showed us how to handle food and how to work with it, and pampered by printed recipes that encourage obedience and conformity at the expense of of knowledge and understanding, we have become a generation of cooks who do not know How? ‘Or’ What to cook.”

He added: “We happily accept the poor performance. Of course, we do not encourage bad results; we rarely wake up, however, to achieve higher goals. Ends rather than means are our guideline – reliable results rather than companies that might lead us astray. “

His partner, Mr Sartwell, who will continue to run the bookstore, said in an email: “Nach’s goal in opening the bookstore will last; we’re all as interested in the things that drove him as he was. But his experience, his expertise, his point of view will be impossible to replace.

“I’m going to order copies of a new book on Mayan ethnobotany,” he added, “but I won’t read it with the same gimlet eye that Nach would.”


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